Contributor : Mariam Karim Ahlawat (reprinted)
I was to wait outside a school which was hosting a competitive exam in RK Puram New Delhi. Hot dusty April, the hottest in decades, swirled about. This school is in one of the narrow old lanes of the colony built years and years ago. I got out of the car to look for the gate the children were to use. Many other parents stood about with anxious faces. Suddenly a fragrance I had known as a child assailed my nostrils..the sweet, all too sweet fragrance of wild figs. An orchestra of chirpings and chirruppings and cheepings seemed to be playing—I looked up to see an immense, goolar tree, the ficus indica, spreading its long boughs laden with the ripening fruit . And in the branches there was nearly every species of bird that inhabits the trees of New Delhi: parrots, mynahs, brahminy mynahs, white-eyes, pigeons, green pigeons, bulbuls, sunbirds, babblers, and even kingfishers ! And of course there were the squirrels running up and down the branches, bobbing their tails, going from fruit to fruit, testing their ripeness! The cool shade offered by the old spreading tree and the delicacies of the wild fruit along with the insects they attract provided a heavenly arbor for all these creatures – a rarity in the city today. I can say the wait outside the school was a wonderful treat indeed. Yet I found few people looking up, caring if there was a sweet orchestra of birds playing, noticing that here in real life was a programme in progression which they might watch with interest on Discovery or Animal Planet… in fact there was a man in a long expensive car parked under the tree, windows up, AC switched on, chatting away on his cell-phone. The air around the car was getting extremely hot because of the AC.
He opened his window for a moment to look out and see if the exam time was over and if any children were emerging from the gate. I took the opportunity to approach him – I told him it was very cool under the shade of the tree, there was no need to keep the AC on, and it was in any case adding to the heat all around. I pointed out to him the variety of birds in the tree. I said “Your child will go to a premier Institute of Technology, so at least a little awareness of the environment on your part won’t go amiss”. He looked nonplussed for a minute, but luckily for me he smiled, and agreed that he shouldn’t be using his AC.
I realize that our day to day lives do not include awareness of our immediate surroundings any more. We think about the traffic, the petrol we spend, the time taken to get from one place to another, the movie we must watch in the evening, the contacts we must make for our various businesses, the money we owe or someone owes us, the mobile bill…anything at all. It is obviously foolish and without profit to look up into a bird-filled tree. What good will that do us? Leave it to ornithologists.
We are no longer excited by the life that exists around us, and that is why we are losing it so quickly. A grown woman watching birds and squirrels? When her son is sitting for such an important exam on which his entire future may depend? She must certainly be soft in the head!
No, we do not live in the world any longer, we live in flats and cars and malls and
restaurants and keep the world out. We are afraid of the heat and the cold and the dust and we shut ourselves in cocoons and refuse to live each moment. When we feel spiritless and hollow inside of ourselves, we run to gurus and babas and chanting groups and kirtans and samagams…now even psychotherapists—when just around the corner, Nature provides beauty, harmony, melody, joy, relief from stress, in little pockets that still exist in the teeming cities.
We look desperately for God in human gatherings and we ignore, neglect and abuse the world God created. Spirituality can lie only in the preservation of Nature and all creatures great and small, with the lives of which our lives are intimately linked; otherwise search where we may, inner peace and harmony will always elude us.
About the contributor: Mariam Karim-Ahlawat is a published author and playwright and will be co-hosting the Himalayan Writing Week in the Kumaon Himalayas in April 2017. To learn more about her, please visit www.himalayanwritingretreat.com/#facilitators . Mariam lived in Delhi.
This article was originally printed in the Times of India Supplement under a different title, and is republished with the author’s permission.